Transforming Ourselves: NYAS Panel Examines Human Enhancement

Guest post by science writer Carl Sherman

Human Enhancement.jpg

Image: Shutterstock

This was the premise of a public symposium at New York Academy of Sciences, presented by the Aspen Brain Institute, the Hastings Center, and the Academy.

While the prospect demands sound scientific policy, its associated moral, social, and political issues require a broader base of expertise. The symposium accordingly brought together a genetics researcher, a futurist and author, and experts on bioethics and artificial intelligence to explore the promise and perils of human enhancement.

“All the technologies we need to fundamentally transform our species already exist,” said futurist and sci-fi novelist Jamie Metzl. “With the mapping of the genome, we could read the code of life; with gene editing technology, we can write it.”

Genomic advances are making reproductive technology transformative, he said. With preimplantation embryo screening, parents can select, among a dozen IVF embryos, one free of certain genetic diseases and with preferred eye color and gender. As personal genotyping spreads, accumulating data will clarify genetic patterns underlying personality, intelligence, physical prowess, appearance, and other traits to give parents a broader spectrum of options.

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Neurotechnology and the Military

“Every generation has been trying to figure out how to use brain-related technology to improve security,” from caffeine to computer enhancement, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., said at the Capitol Hill briefing “Neurotechnology and the Military” last week. Moreno and neuroscientist Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., had teamed up to give a similar presentation at a luncheon six years ago, and on Friday the two brought us up to date.

Hochberg

Leigh Hochberg used video clips to show how BrainGate works (photo courtesy of The Society for Neuroscience).

Thanks to a half-century of federally funded basic research, researchers have developed a chip carrying 144 electrodes that can be inserted into people’s skulls (over the motor cortex) and send impulses to computers to drive a cursor or a mechanical object, said Hochberg, the director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Brown University and Harvard Medical School.

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Neuroethics Society Meeting: Ethical Consumer Neurotechnologies

KK_INSblog

Karola Kreitmair

The capabilities of neurotechnologies are revolutionizing the path of treatment and prevention for certain illnesses. As they continue to evolve, it’s become necessary for doctors and patients to consider the ethical quandaries that arise with the use of brain-interfacing devices.

“We are at a place where we are unlocking more and more data about peoples’ brains and behaviors, and developing more ways of affecting our brains,” neuroethicist Karola Kreitmair said in an interview with the International Neuroethics Society (INS) back in August. “It’s important that we have an ethical actor at the table to shape that future.”

Kreitmair was this year’s Rising Star Plenary Lecturer at the INS meeting, following a panel presentation on the ethics of neuroscience and neurotechnology. She addressed shared concerns brought up by the three panelists in her lecture, “The Seven Requirements for Ethical Consumer Neurotechnologies.”

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